Samaritan seeks to expand COVID testing

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 11:09 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Samaritan Medical Center wants to once again offer free COVID-19 testing at its drive up testing facility on outer Washington Street.

Samaritan’s M. Andrew Short, Chief Operating Officer, is seeking the support of Scott Gray, the chairman of the Jefferson County legislature.

Gray told 7 News last week that he’s asked the state to step in and temporarily expand COVID testing in Jefferson County, because of extraordinarily high demand for the tests.

In a letter to Gray, Short writes “I would like your support in encouraging NYS (New York State) to re-establish our existing drive up testing site as a State site and be able to offer COVID-19 testing to our community on a much larger scale.”

Samaritan operated a free drive-up testing site under contract with the state for a year, testing more than 9,000 people.

That contract ended in July, as COVID appeared to be waning, and before the spread of the Delta variant.

In his letter to Gray, Short notes that urgent cares in the area are swamped by demand for COVID tests, which is sending people who have a medical issue that is not COVID, and who would typically go to an urgent care, to the emergency room instead.

In addition, Samaritan’s emergency room is also seeing 10-20 patients a day who need COVID tests.

“Emergency rooms across the state are already stretched too thin with staffing challenges and a much higher acuity of patients,” Short writes.

“This is creating a ‘perfect storm’ that puts many patients at risk for negative outcomes.”

7 News reported that Samaritan on Thursday faced a back-up of patients in its emergency room so severe it prompted hospital officials to call on “multiple departments within the hospital” to help out.

Samaritan is not alone in appealing to Gray for help. Watertown Urgent Care sent Gray a letter, asking Gray to help get another testing site set up.

Watertown Urgent Care’s Mark Knowles writes that the urgent care is doing 1,000 rapid tests for COVID a week, and has had to double staff.

“Parking in our area is limited and with 2-3 hour delays patients have been disruptive and abusive,” Knowles writes, “to the point we may need to hire security staff.”

Gray says the governor’s office responded to his request last week, saying it’s looking into it. Gray says he’s hoping to have a concrete answer this week.

“The situation here is near critical, if not already there. It’s because it’s clogging the healthcare system up. Okay, it’s necessary and it’s vital, and there can be no delay in testing,” said Gray.

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